RINGS ON HER FINGERS. 20th Century-Fox, 1942. Gene Tierney, Henry Fonda, Laird Cregar, Spring Byington, John Shepperd (Shepperd Strudwick), Frank Orth, Henry Stephenson. Director: Rouben Mamoulian.


   Gene Tierney was as beautiful an actress as Hollywood ever produced, wasn’t she?

   In the scene in this mostly light-hearted movie in which she’s trying to attract Henry Fonda’s attention, dressed in a single piece bathing suit and stretched out on a blanket along the shore, he’s so distracted he can hardly talk, and who can blame him?

   Over the span of her career, Gene Tierney didn’t do too many romantic comedies – most of her films seems to be straight dramas (Dragonwyck, The Razor’s Edge) or crime films with a strong noirish flavor (Laura, of course, and Night and the City) – but she acquits herself well in Rings on Her Fingers, making me wish she’d done more movies in the same vein.


   Looking through her list of films, I see only That Wonderful Urge (1948), a remake of Love Is News (1937), with Tyrone Power in both, as a movie that’s in any sense comparable to Rings on Her Fingers.

   In a way, you might call this film a “re-imagining” of The Lady Eve (1941), in which Henry Fonda played against Barbara Stanwyck. The gimmick here is that Henry Fonda’s character is poor, not rich, and when Gene Tierney’s character is part of a flim-flam which fleeces him of $15,000 hard-earned dollars, it’s easy to see that the two of them will get together, but how will she keep her part of the swindle a secret from him?


   Not that she’s a bad girl, only a shop girl easily tempted by glamor and easy riches, and taken in by the real pair of crooks, Laird Cregar and (believe it or not) Spring Byington. And what a mis-matched pair they are: Cregar was a giant of a man in size (but nimble enough on his feet), and Byington was tiny and nearly swallowed up on the screen in comparison.

   Is this a screwball comedy? I’ve asked myself that, and when I did, I didn’t get an immediate response, mostly because, like “noir film,” I don’t know that I have an exact definition of screwball comedy in mind.

   But I guess I know one when I see one, and at the moment I’m inclined to say No as far as Rings on Her Fingers is concerned. The romantic problems are a little too real, with too much of an edge to them (how does she keep him finding out that she was part of the con game that took him in?), and there doesn’t seem to be the kind of goofy wackiness that I associate with other screwball comedies of the 1940s.


   As for Henry Fonda, he’s perfect for the part, naive but noble, and what a way to make a living: kissing Gene Tierney.